Catherine's War by Julia Billet and Claire Fauvel, 176 pp, RL 4
by Julia Billet & Claire Fauvel
Purchased at Barnes & Noble
Catherine's War by French author Billet began as a novel, inspired by the memories and photographs of her mother, Tamo Cohen, one of the hidden children rescued during World War II. The graphic novel adaptation begins in 1942 at the Sèvres Children's Home outside of Paris, an innovative school that embraced creativity and compassion, taking in Jewish children and giving them new identities. Rachel Cohen becomes Catherine Colin her new Christian identity offering protection, for a time. At school, Catherine pursues her love of photography while helping school staff create new identity papers for the increasing number of Jewish children being hidden there. As the Nazis advance and the threat increases, Catherine is sent on to one new hiding place after another, protecting and teaching the younger children and taking photographs along the way. At a cloister in Riom, Catherine's skill as a photographer - and the Rolleiflex camera that the heads of the Sèvres insisted she take with her -are the start of a friendship with a fellow photographer working in the village. From there, Catherine and Alice, a younger child she has taken under her wing, are sent on to new hiding places as the Nazis make their way across France. The girls eventually end up in the Pyrénées in a cottage with a group of Resistance Fighters. When Paris is liberated, Rachel returns home her childhood apartment to look for her parents, documenting the joy and destruction. Unable to find her parents, Catherine returns to the Sèvres School to help teach and care for the children waiting for their parents to return for them. Reclaiming her name, Rachel shares her photographic documentation with others, earning a gallery show in Paris. At the end of the story, Rachel reunites with the photographer from Riom and the pair travel the world, continuing to take pictures.
Back matter includes a map of France and the many places that Rachel hid during the occupation, along with a note to readers and four pages of answers to questions from young readers, including an explanation of a scene that Rachel witnesses upon returning to a liberated Paris: women having their heads shaved for being girlfriends to the Germans. Catherine's War is an valuable addition to books about the Holocaust, expanding on R. J. Palacio's graphic novel, White Bird. Claire Fauvel's illustrations are superb, bringing the many characters in the story to life and giving readers a vivid impression of France, from Paris to the countryside.